So, does Jurickson Profar look ready for the major leagues?
Ian Kinsler smiled.
“I could be honest with you, and it would probably make headlines,” Kinsler said. “That’s not really something I’m looking for, to make headlines. He’s obviously a very talented player. He’s done a lot of good things in camp. And he’s worked hard. That’s really all you can ask for.”
Kinsler is known for his outspokenness. For now, the circumspect answer will have to do. He knows how radioactive the topic is within the context of the Texas Rangers’ 2013 season. Profar is the game’s best middle-infield prospect, and his emergence has created one of the happiest predicaments in baseball.
Profar, 20, has played exclusively second base and shortstop during his minor league career, outside of one game at third last year. He’s played only second base and shortstop this spring. Neither starting job is available. Nominally, at least. Kinsler has been the Rangers’ everyday second baseman for the past seven years, Elvis Andrus the shortstop for four.
Kinsler and Andrus formed the double-play combination on Texas teams that reached consecutive World Series and came within one strike of winning it all in 2011. Kinsler is 30. Andrus is 24. Each made the All-Star team last year.
With Kinsler just starting a five-year contract and Andrus not eligible for free agency until the 2014-2015 offseason, the intrigue is self-evident. Somebody’s going to get a new position — or a new team. The associated questions, in no particular order: Who? When? And at what cost (if any) to clubhouse tranquility?
With Kinsler or Andrus, the Rangers hope to avoid the enmity created when Michael Young — the previous face of the franchise — was moved from third base to designated hitter. When the relationship between Young and general manager Jon Daniels deteriorated, Nolan Ryan, as president and CEO, brokered a truce (or something like it).
Now that Ryan has been marginalized by Daniels’ promotion to president of baseball operations — and may not be with the organization by the time the Kinsler/Andrus/Profar question is resolved — the Rangers must make a clean play this time.
Kinsler now occupies the primo spring-training locker space that belonged to Young, who was dealt to Philadelphia in December. Funny, isn’t it?
“I’ve kind of followed him my whole career, really, as far as extensions with the club and things off the field,” Kinsler said of Young. “However he handled it, I definitely take that as experience that I can learn from. But that’s all it is. I have to make my own decision and do what I feel is best, at whatever time it happens.”
Asked if lessons learned from the Young drama could apply to how the organization handles Kinsler, Daniels said, “I think they’re different circumstances, different individuals.”
And that is true. The Rangers sought Kinsler’s input in their decision-making, asking him during the offseason if he would be willing to play first base in 2013. He said he preferred to remain at second. So that was that. For now.
Kinsler is operating under the assumption that he’ll have a seat at the table whenever the Rangers Leadership Council reconvenes about the possibility of him switching positions.
“I’d definitely have to think about it,” Kinsler said Tuesday. “I’d definitely have to see what their vision is. First of all, if I think it’s going to make our team better, if my teammates think it’s going to make the team better. This isn’t a selfish decision. I talked to a lot of my teammates over the winter while this was going on.
“Yes, it is up to me to make the decision — I guess — and the club, to discuss that. But I get input from my teammates. To me, those are the most important people to lean on. They’re the ones who are going to be honest, because they want to win just as badly as I do. I get a lot of input on stuff like that. When the time comes — if it ever does come again — then I’m going to obviously take my time and think about it.
No one. But a great many folks are willing to express their opinions on Profar’s big league preparedness. Asked if Profar can impact the major league team from the start of the season, Andrus said, “He is ready. Everybody knows that. … Right now, if he goes up (to the majors), he probably won’t have the right (playing) time. You want to play. It’s tough, especially at such a young age.
"If I’m in his shoes, I’d rather play (in the minors) than be somewhere where I’m not playing. When you’re young, you want to play. That’s what you need, not sitting and watching.”
Part of what Andrus said is indisputable: In the team’s current layout, Profar wouldn’t have an everyday role. That is why there’s a good chance Profar will begin the season in the minor leagues, despite his immense ability and nine-game major league cameo last year. But what if he starts fast at Triple-A while the Rangers — who are short on pitching — stumble in April?
How soon would fans (and manager Ron Washington) clamor for the Curacao-born Profar — who was added Wednesday to the Netherlands’ team in the WBC as an injury replacement — no matter how young he is?
“I haven’t really been (on a team) with a guy that is as heralded as he is,” said Lance Berkman, the new Ranger and 14-year veteran.
“There’ve been guys where I’ve thought, ‘Man, this is a good young player that is going to have an impact at some point.’ But it does seem he has put himself in a position where it’s going to be tough to not have him on the roster. That having been said, he’s 20 years old. There’s really not a spot for him to play every day, as the team sits right now.
“You don’t want to fall in and out of love with guys in spring training. I know he’s swung the bat great. He looks great. He’s going to be a great player. But the worst thing in the world wouldn’t be to send him out for some additional time at Triple-A. Tough call. Glad I don’t have to make it.”
Daniels and Washington do.
“Is he going to be as good now as he will be in a couple years? No,” Daniels said. “There’s going to be a growth pattern, a learning curve, like with all players. Could he handle it? Could he contribute on a winning team? I do think he can. Fortunately, though, we don’t have that wide-open spot. We have some pretty good players in front of him.”
Tuesday, Washington described Profar as a “baseball player,” in a tone that suggested abiding admiration for his acumen. Asked if Profar needs an everyday role to make the team, Washington replied, “Not necessarily so.” Manager-speak translation: I want to keep him.
When I asked Profar to predict the date of his season debut with the Rangers, he grinned and said, “No idea.” The more revealing piece of information would be this: In early July, by which point three months of wins and losses will have shaped the Rangers’ personnel decisions, will Kinsler, Andrus and Profar be in the same starting lineup? And if so, at which positions?
“That’s a good question,” a chuckling Andrus said, “that you can ask J.D.”
Acting on Andrus’ suggestion, I put the matter before Daniels. He assured me that all three will be “in Texas.” Sadly, that wasn’t much of a scoop. The Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate is based near Austin.